CARSON, Calif. – The start of Thursday’s playoff game against New York did not exactly go the way LA Galaxy coach Bruce Arena had intended.
But after a fourth-minute goal from Red Bulls forward Luke Rodgers and some shaky moments that ensued shortly after, the Galaxy clawed and wrestled their way back into the encounter with a familiar trait, pulling away to win 2-1 and claim the series by a 3-1 aggregate over the Red Bulls.
“[We fell] behind a goal and the series literally [was] even three minutes in and our players [showed] the kind of character … to get back in the game in the first half,” Arena said.
Carrying the flag for the Galaxy was David Beckham. With a cloud of speculation about his future hanging over him – Beckham’s contract is up at the end of the year – the midfielder found some resolve despite suffering through the first half with back pain.
That he dusted himself off and led the team back was something not necessarily surprising but certainly much-needed.
“He’s a player with an unbelievable desire to win and compete," Arena said. "When we got down a goal, David helped pick up the team. His energy in the second half and earning the penalty it was all David. David, I think, was an inspiration to our team.”
The Galaxy needed some sort of spark to get back into the encounter. Rodgers broke through the LA backline and buried an early strike, a play that was indicative of the way the Galaxy played early on.
“The first 10 to 15 minutes of the game, we did not do a good job of recognizing their presence on the field and how to step to players and put them under pressure,” Arena said. “We gave New York a little bit of time on the ball and they were dangerous.”
After weathering the storm, though, the Galaxy became the aggressors. Part of that was due to injury – New York lost instrumental midfielder Teemu Tainio after just 16 minutes due to a hamstring injury. Slowly, the Galaxy pressured New York’s goal more and forced Red Bulls ‘keeper Frank Rost to make several saves to keep his club in the game.
But Beckham found Magee on a corner kick in the 42nd minute, and Magee scored his second goal of the series to put the Galaxy back in front on the aggregate score.
“That goal was big,” Arena said. “I thought he started the game slow. He got into it as the half went on and had a good second half as well. [He’s] obviously scoring some timely goals, some important goals.”
Donovan added a late penalty to distance the Galaxy from the Red Bulls.
Now, the club must recover and prepare to host Real Salt Lake on Sunday (9 pm ET; ESPN, ESPN Deportes, TSN2; live chat on MLSsoccer.com). The match will be the Galaxy’s second in a four-day span – the second time the club has had such a short turnaround this year. But it’s not the first time they've had a midweek match sandwiched around a pair of weekend games.
“This is maybe the 10th time this year we’ve done this,” Arena said. “We know how to recover for this. It’s never easy but we’ll get our team recovered. Obviously, the players that played [Thursday] will have a real easy couple of days to get ready for Sunday.”
Luis Bueno covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com and can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @RunnerLuis